Preface to the Preface
I started blogging about matters relating to race (race relations, racial justice, prejudice and the like) last summer as such things began heating up following (especially) the killing of George Floyd. Race, as a topic in and of itself, is not the focus of this blog, but of course like lots of topics it does impinge on the focus here in big and small, direct and indirect, ways. Thus, it is not a major stretch to take off on this tangent.
Also, I am NOT an expert. I am not doing exhaustive research; my offerings will be largely anecdotal and personal (yet, I hope reflective of common thoughts, feelings, and experiences). Any agendas I may push regarding race, I do as humbly as I can and with grace, mercy, and LOVE in mind. I expect that as I bring up discussions on race, I will (probably inadvertently) reveal my own bias(es) and prejudice much of which will be subconscious on my part since I intend to strain toward equality and love.
The offerings here will be MY PERSPECTIVE on things with hope of accounting for my own mistakes, becoming vulnerable and open to correction, and to explore many different facets of racial diversity, not just the problem areas. I will attempt to get both deep AND wide with exploration, confession, inquiry, and build trust while keeping ideas for prescription playing only a minor part.
The issues are bigger than me. I cannot resolve everything. But I can, hopefully, build a bridge between my white, middle-class life of relative comfort and my neighbors who I largely do not know and whose experience(s) frequently (if not always) involve fear, oppression, subjugation, as well as misunderstanding as they interact (or even just live in proximity with) me and people like me. And so… even though my aims are meager, as far as the notion of “making a difference” goes, I can “start with me,” pushing myself to be vulnerable, honest, open-minded, and willing to build fidelity with others (of any race, actually).
I expect this post to be foundational for further discussion. I may well refer readers back here from time to time. Not that I will stick strictly to every word here, but to refer to the tone in which I wish to conduct discussion AND maybe a few of the worldview lenses I look through as I enter this space of sharing. Hopefully, any changes in the foundation will be for mutual benefit or else will not change significantly and thus provide stability for the overarching conversation.
Now for just THE Preface
This post in general is intended to preface further discussion. And while the paragraphs above seek to set a tone of humility (first and foremost) and to lay out a general notion of the scope (secondarily), I want also to lay out a few thought-shaping ideas I have. I don’t mean them to be written in stone, and they may prove not all that meaningful in the end, but I sense there are some bits (nuts and bolts) of thought that help construct a larger worldview and/or discussion.
This is starting to sound too erudite for my taste, actually, so let’s try to keep this a bit more colloquial, if possible. This will not be a straight forward “series” in a regular sense, but a smattering of posts with an open-ended goal and no real end in sight. When I come to the blog to talk about race, I aim to have a neighborly discussion like neighbors talking over the back fence. I expect there will be times when I come off like Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor talking to Wilson out back and then coming back inside to regurgitate depth and wisdom in simpleton language. I don’t want to get too hifalutin, really. I want to make a difference in me and in regular folx from my neighborhood, not write a doctoral thesis.
However, that said, recommending a published doctoral thesis for review by me or other readers here is welcome. I don’t want to live in fancy college talk, but I don’t cut off any avenue of wisdom either.
Likewise, I do not want to chase the wind in some moral dimension either. I don’t want to bog down in guilt feelings that are unrealistic. I don’t want to chase moral phantoms, confess sins that either are nor real or that I have no part in, and such like. However, I would rather err to that side than to not build a bridge of trust for fear of looking stupid. The prima facie case is too overwhelming to discount here: White people have oppressed, harmed, subjugated, and killed people of color over the eons with impunity on grand scales. I live in a world built on such foundations, and I have benefited from the order thus achieved in ways that are unfair and unloving AT LEAST.
The Learning Curve (esp for White People)
The work of Richard Hughes provides an excellent example and likely template for me to consider at this point. Hughes has sought to understand our culture and our biases and to teach the rest of us to think critically about such matters. He’s been at it for years. He has built a career largely on such grounds. Almost two decades ago, he wrote a book called Myths America Lives By which explored a number of bases American culture takes as normative and formative which need to be challenged and rethought in more caring ways. Hughes is a Christian leader, as well as a scholar, and so is motivated by the love of Jesus. This has dictated that he seek equality among races among other things.
Obviously, Hughes’s heart is “in the right place” as we might say. Yet a few years ago, as he entered into dialog with a panel of scholars addressing racial justice and the like, he was confronted by his colleagues of color for overlooking the biggest myth of all: The Myth of White Supremacy. Hughes had to work through a bit of denial to see it, but once he did, he went back to the publisher and revamped his book.
If that can happen to such a thoughtful idealist as Richard Hughes, a scholar who has become an authority on such things, how much more can I expect it in me?
But, of course, in citing Hughes’s situation, I again come at this discussion on the erudite side of rhetoric, I fear. I am not as smart as the rhetoric suggests. But I am no stooge either. I think general notions about how this kind of exercise is supposed to work come erroneously from gay rights.
Civil Rights (Race and Sexual Orientation and Apples and Oranges)
In popular discourse, I find an ill-defined, heady sense that we are working out our prejudices against gays (LGBTQ+) and simply ironing out wrinkles in our own life. But what if homosexuality is a sin? What if homosexuality is a choice (at least in some – if not most – cases)? What if so many of the issues surrounding sexual orientation are far more complex both morally and physiologically, psychologically and spiritually, than matters of race. OR, what if there are different categories of complexity which render the comparisons between racial matters and matters of sexual orientation to be like comparing apples and oranges? Some crossover, but not enough to just take it for granted???
I get the sense that as gays find “rights” and settlements against the discriminations they suffer (and I in no way mean to legitimate discriminations against people based on sexual orientation by virtue of my questions above either, but merely to disentangle the two overarching matters), the public discourse expects race matters to follow the same trajectory. But I find enough differences there, personally, that I in no way equate the two, even if many of the similarities are overwhelmingly obvious. The instances of white people trying to pass themselves off as black (or other color) are exceptionally small, but in a consumerist culture where choice is so prized that I can stand in the shampoo aisle at the grocery store and ponder no less than 38 versions of Suave Shampoo (as just one tiny example among MANY) to see the menu of sexual orientations and suggest that Americans are just locked into their orientation seems ludicrous to me. On the other hand, if you are black, then you are black and there is very, precious little you can do on a daily basis to change it – or change the perceptions of others regarding it.
I also want to say a few words about “THE N-WORD.”
First and foremost, on this blog, you will not read me using the N-word. There is much to be said about the word, not the least the dance around it. In order to talk about the offensive word, I will use the standard designation “THE N-WORD.” But this can (and I believe sometimes does) dictate discussion of “THE N-WORD” – the terminology used to designate the N-word without using the N-word. It gets complicated/cumbersome to not just use the actual N-word, but that is not a good excuse to go using it.
I will discuss my own feelings and understandings about the N-word in a later post, but I must acknowledge in a prefaced way that there are two terms here: One covering (normally) for the other but sometimes doing double duty; the other being avoided outright in effort to respect readers of color and not do damage to the trust I hope to build.
I hope that is clear. If not, please ask about my point with this in the comments. However, I expect to have a LOT more to say about the N-word in a subsequent post at a later time, and I want it clear up front that I respect how offensive that term is, and will avoid using it.
Jokes and funny stories need not necessarily be offensive. I imagine that there is celebration of diversity hidden in jokes and stories that we surely don’t want to sacrifice, but let’s face it. Jokes can and often do hurt.
How do we measure offense? I don’t know a universal yard stick for this. It seems to me that it is quite obvious that what is funny to one might be hurtful to another. Thus it is obvious how this is NOT OBVIOUS.
Yet, obviously there are degrees of inappropriateness. If a joke or a story is told with the intention of doing harm, then how can we not call that racist? Surely that is obvious, and if not, surely once it is made clear, offense finds its mark. What about a joke or a story you don’t feel comfortable telling in front of people of color? How might telling it be appropriate in private? I am inclined to think it probably is not. However, there might be educational value in such a thing.
Then there is the matter of insensitivity. I might use a phrase like “you people,” “your people,” or even “those people” in appropriate ways, but I might also use them in sentences which marginalize others, and I might not realize I have said something hurtful. These are just three examples, but I am betting that on a long enough timeline, we will discover others too.
It is my hope on this blog that if insensitive remarks are made by me or another, you call me out for it. Help me account for such talk. I stand to learn from the experience. But I also ask your patience with me. Please don’t take offense and just leave or lash out in retaliation. Give me a chance to grow from the experience. I will do my best to show that favor to others also.
What if the one feeling offended is hypersensitive and the offense is just extremely minor or not even real?
I think that is possible too, but I want to err to the side of sensitivity. Neither my ancestors nor I have been oppressed, enslaved, subjugated and murdered on a mass scale either in personal history, recent history or ancient history.
Finally, in a manner much like “Affirmative Action,” I will give preference to the minority voice here. I think this needs to be said in case of hecklers. Some of my white friends will come to this discussion strictly to turn the tables for the devil’s advocate position. All things are not equal, and merely saying you take offense as a white person is not enough of a counterbalance for the offense taken by a black person.
If you, as a white person, sincerely feel offended, please make your case for that. If I cannot accommodate you, then change channels and watch something else. I will try to accommodate sincerity with sincerity to the best of my ability and level-headed judgment, for I don’t want anyone to come here and be offended. However, I am willing to bend further for the people of color than for my white brothers on this, and if that seems arbitrary, so be it.
Give me a chance. Give me two. But if I cannot accommodate your white sensitivities, then bow out of this discussion. I don’t believe I have nearly so much fence to mend with fellow whites as I do with people of color. The interracial divisions are the ones I focus on healing here specifically, and I will not sacrifice that for intra-racial sensitivities – to the best of my ability.
I believe there are OTHER considerations that should go in this preface, but this is getting long enough now that I will stop. However, I may well come here and edit or add to this list of considerations over time. If I do that, I will make adjustments in red color font OR in the comments section so that I can demonstrate the goodwill gesture I start with today even if I enhance it in the future. I want to lay these markers down right at the start and build on the foundation stones of goodwill a bridge from my perspective to yours. I want to build trust and fellowship. I am willing to make changes in myself as I go and to call out problem spots and stubbornness where insensitivities and racism persist among my kind and in me.
Watch for more to come soon.